Google’s motto: Don’t be evil. (9)

In the final minutes of a Google Authors talk by Slavoj Zizek, professor and philosopher, one of Google’s employees asks Zizek what he thinks about Google’s informal motto: “Don’t be evil.” In essence, what are Google’s unknown knowns, or as Freud would say, unconscious elements?

Is Google aware of its potential for abusive power?

Is Google aware of its potential for abusive power?

As discussed in the previous post, Google’s ownership of Youtube has led to increased detection of copyright infringement and the removal of videos that contravene its pornography and obscenity guidelines.

Zizek responds by wondering why Google is worried about being evil, and which model of evil they subscribe to. Perhaps being the most powerful search engine, they could be open to manipulating what the public sees when they search for a term like “McDonalds” versus “McDonalds food poisoning.”

Zizek defines evil as something which “brutally interrupts the normal running of things, evil is a cut, which is why for certain pagan religions, Jesus Christ is evil embodied. And in a way they are right,” because he signalled an end to obeying Karma and believing in reincarnation.

Zizek interprets Google’s motto as “we are doing something terribly great lets not do it too fast.”

Google does fit Zizek’s simplified model of evil, in that they have broken ground (from a software perspective), and changed the way a new generation watches video and finds its information. This affects, according to Zizek, normal community life and a small part of what it means to be human.

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 4:09 pm  Comments (3)  

Youtube – The new video monopoly? (8) (video 3)

“No freedom, no content”

Fakesagan, a quasi-famous Youtube user with 6,010 subscribers, has recently decided to quit supplying Youtube with content.

After receiving a second strike to his account for including a segment of his girlfriend’s amateur cartoon which included a cartoon depiction of breasts and buttox which Youtube deemed to be pornographic, fakesagan claims Youtube’s censorship has gone too far.

“Its about power, that’s what censorship is really about,” says fakesagan. The popular misconception that censors hate offensive art is wrong, he says. Its more about a jealous control over artists.

Fakesagan claims he stopped watching TV and made his home on Youtube to escape TV’s “banal corporate fluff” which insulted his intelligence. But the corporation has followed him onto the Net.

As Strangelove has said, Youtube has cornered about 60 per cent of the video watching market on the Internet. Youtube’s inital autonomy and relatively lax rules for posting didn’t last long. Under the economic pressure of powerful corporations, they have just recently become more stringent.

New detection technology has targeted the audio tracks of videos automatically detecting copyright infringements when a protected song is used without permission and removing it from the video.

Fakesagan is perhaps correct in his decision to “stick it to the man” by halting content creation.

“I’ve always understood something about the nature of freedom that other people don’t. Freedom is ephemeral. You can’t bottle it. You can’t engineer a free society. You can’t develop a philosophy or a religion that’s conducive to ‘setting one free’. You can’t write freedom into a constitution or any document. Freedom is fleeting. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle,” he says.

Fakesagan promises to take his anti-establishment political v-logging to another website. But he understands that freedom on any given website can only last so long.

The good thing about the internet, is there’s always another website just waiting for users jump ship. Youtube will have to be careful that its monopoly doesn’t evaporate as quickly as it appeared.

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 3:32 am  Comments (1)  

Lululemon pant-demic at Ottawa U and the myth of mass customization. (7)

You wouldn’t believe the number of girls that do Yoga at the University of Ottawa these days. And you’d be right not to, because they don’t. They just pretend to with their Lululemon yoga pants.

Most guys would think it odd to complain that these figure-clinging pants are the latest fad to stick to young women’s butts everywhere. But here I am doing it, because part of me doesn’t understand it.

"WHY!?"

One frustrated word: "WHY!?"

What’s interesting about Lululemon’s yoga pants is that they are advertised in such an ironic way that matches Strangelove’s criticism of similar products beautifully.

Lululemon’s website advertising literature attempts to give their pants an aura of liberation through personal meditation by riding on the back of Yoga mythology which preaches such empty promises as to “integrate the various aspects of the body-mind through a combination of postures, breathing techniques, deep relaxation, and meditation.”

Strangelove’s argument that “it is intensely ironic that this latest trend in highly customized marketing is celebrated as liberating” (p. 39) fits the Lululemon booty conspiracy perfectly.

Additionally, pants with titles like “hook my eye” and “groove” play right into the male gaze. It is curious that women would find such themes “liberating.” You can see why I am so confused.

But Strangelove’s analysis with the help of Hannah Tavares does make things a bit clearer. “What looks like diversity and freedom of choice turns out to be stereotypical constructions of feminity and race” (p. 147).

The only question left is “When will the booty pants fad end?”

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 2:54 am  Comments (26)  

The citizen’s war. (6) (video 2)

The latest ramping up of violence in the neverending Israeli-Palestinian “war” has been accompanied by a different type of media coverage according to Strangelove.

Palestinians used handheld cameras and cell phone videos to show the horrors of war they were experiencing.

Rather than consuming the pro-Israel corporate media story that is well known to dominate U.S. airwaves and news print, people had the option of hooking into Youtube or other public internet video sites to view what Palestinians were recording on their own.

But how reliable are these videos? From a skeptical viewpoint, not very. The following video is labelled as showing Israeli war crimes. People lie in the street wailing in agony. But all we are shown is the result of some explosion, not the source. Admittedly, if it were an airstrike, this would be hard to do.

Detractors commenting on the video claim that this was not an Israeli attack, but an accidental explosion on the part of Hamas. Who are we to trust? Online video does not help the viewer at all as long as we do not know who the source was, when it was recorded, where, and so on.

Additionally, this video, if it is even legitimate, was very difficult to locate on Youtube’s servers. Strangelove’s statement that citizens have alternatives to corporate media stories is true only insofar as citizens behave independently of their TVs and seek out amateur war coverage online. Its an argument which requires empirically tested backing.

Raw amateur footage:

Al Jazeera footage:

The media coverage of a separate attack during the same conflict is very different. We see the Israeli airstrike occuring. Death toll statistics accompany images of bodies on the streets. The source of the coverage and the clarity of the video lends legitimacy to the occurrence. Its a much more convincingly crafted story.

My point is that online amateur war coverage still has its limits. It is not nearly as prominent, reliable, or well done. We can be glad that alternatives exist, but we should not over estimate their power.

Published in: on February 1, 2009 at 8:22 pm  Comments (1)  

The Normalization Thesis and a new musical invention. (5)

Normalization in the context of market ideology is the draw for people to retain the status quo by buying into capitalism its and bottomless-pit purchase, get bored, purchase more cycle. Its about being a good consumer and not asking subversive or analytical, (god-forbid critical!) questions.

C’mon! Just be normal! Why shouldn’t you love watching the same hockey game over and over again? Don’t fall in love! Love doesn’t exist. We have something that will take the edge off your hormones. What’ll it be? Booze or porn? Why not both!

Woody Norris has invented hyper-sonic sound. People usually tell him “Cool, but what’s it good for?”

Hyper-sonic sound is to the speaker what the laser is to the lightbulb. Hypersonic sound doesn’t dissipate in all directions, but is focused in a straight line.

For the first time people will be able to listen to true stereo sound. The speakers you’re used to let sound from the left channel into your right ear. With these new puppies you’ll be able to aim the separate channels at each ear and neither will interfere with the other.

Nevermind the long term effects of aiming what is effectively an ultrasound at your cerebellum.

Or nevermind that this new invention has already been appropriated into capitalism’s value system. Not much escapes the normalization thesis these days.

Nevermind the non-economic uses for this invention. The U.S. military is already using it to communicate with its troops on the ground to better annihilate the enemy, er… human beings.

Norris says pretty soon you’ll see it in malls, grocery marts and big box stores. Waiting in line to pay you’ll suddenly step into the sound zone without knowing it. The speakers will lock onto you and you won’t have a chance. Who doesn’t want to be entertained while waiting in a long line? And nobody else can hear what you’re watching.

Norris claims he’s creating silence at the same time as advertising foofaraw, as anyone can take another step and they’ll be free of the hyper-sonic soundwaves.

But lets not kid ourselves. All Norris is selling is one more new way to grab people and shake a few more coins out of their pants pockets. He’s in it for the money. He says so himself.

Published in: on January 31, 2009 at 6:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Feminism is for Fridays: online misogyny. (4) (video 2)

A lot of information is coming our way these days about women in society.

Strangelove has pointed out that for the first time some women are out-earning and out-graduating men. I look around me, and at least for the University of Ottawa, I can’t argue there. The majority of my Communication classes have more women than men.

Contrary to what feminists predicted, there is gender parity on the internet. Strangelove argues that its close to 50/50 on Youtube.

The gender wage gap has stagnated at 22.2 per cent according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Why don’t we hear about the wage gap in the media? It could be because, according to Strangelove, 70 per cent of journalists and 90 per cent of film makers are men.

But its important to not obfuscate other issues by focusing solely on the plight of women in the U.S., which many would argue does not match up to the plight women face internationally in some Islamic countries. Additionally, racial minorities can be just as damning in the workplace as gender.

Vicky Lovell’s (Ph.D) study on Jobs and Diversity in the Communications and Media Sector revealed that the wage ratio for whites versus minorities was very similar to that of men versus women. In the Wired Telecom industry “white men’s earnings are more than 27 per cent higher than minority men’s, and white women’s more than 31 per cent higher than minority women’s … white men earn 30 per cent more than white women, and minority men earn 34 per cent more than minority women” (p.17).

But there is a men’s rights activism rising alongside the newly unabridged female voice on the Internet.

Youtube users like ArgusEyes point out that in certain cases, men are more oppressed than women, specifically from a legislative point of view. I do not agree with all of his points but I will say that in every argument neither side is always completely correct.

It certainly appears that Feministing has removed his response videos, which were not derogatory or offensive to women. Although he might have made incorrect arguments, in the absence of a reason as to why she removed his videos, we should not assume that she was indeed avoiding debate. Perhaps she saw no reason to allow amateurism on her channel. Or there might be a history between these users that we are not aware of. We could fault Feministing for using ad hominem against those she rightly opposes for using ad hominem. Although, her use of it might be intentionally ironic.

Stereotypes and false generalizations usually contain some truth or no one would listen to them. Thus, although ArgusEyes may have a point when he says that breast cancer research receives disproportionately more funding than prostate cancer research (when both kill as many people), or that men receive longer sentences than women for the same crimes, we should not be so quick to cry “oppression against men is worse!” but instead try to understand why these things are so, and look for other minorities who are being oppressed as well.

Indeed I have always interpreted feminist argumentation on its best merits and seen it as a force for equality. Getting our undergarments in a knot over which gender is treated worse is a fatuous exercise. Equality for both genders should be the highest goal.

~

ArgusEyes’ blog: http://www.true-equality.net/archive/2008/05/10/men-are-more-oppressed-than-women.aspx

Feministing blog: feministing.com

Vicky Lovell. Making the Right Call: Jobs and Diversity in the Communications and Media Sector. Retrieved from: http://www.iwpr.org/pdf/C364.pdf.

IWPR. The Gender Wage Ratio: Women’s and Men’s Earnings. Retrieved from: http://www.iwpr.org/pdf/C350.pdf.

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 9:18 pm  Comments (2)  

Youtube and the small family audience. (3)

An amateur video entitled 'The Kill' from FlimFlamFilms

An amateur video entitled 'The Kill' from FlimFlamFilms

It seems strange to admit, but those annoying numa numa and soulja boy video (and the like) forwards you keep getting in your e-mail inbox aren’t the most popular type of videos on Youtube.

Strangelove points out that the most popular behaviour on Youtube is the making and sharing of videos for small networks of people, either associated by family or friends.

John Berger’s documentary “New Ways of Seeing” defines the camera as a mechanical eye that allows us to reinterpret our world. No longer limited by immobility or time, or even the invisible parts of the spectrum, we may see quite almost anything on Earth and a great deal outside of it that we never could before.

But the corporate camera is something quite different. It dominates our eyes with its temporal and spacial selections of what it deems to be important. Usually these selections are made up of content that supports the market ideology of capitalism. They slide in and out of our minds in a never ending phantasmagoria.

Even reality TV reproduces the power relations of Michel Fourcault’s confessional society. The characters are the sinners and we are their innocent priests and mothers Teresa. Oh wouldn’t that be nice? If only it were true. Neither are reality TV shows like Big Brother or So You Think You Can Dance Canada? free of the product placement that plagues the average sitcom or James Bond movie.

The only thing a reality TV show lacks is a big budget. The fragmented audience can no longer afford to pay Seinfeld and Friends their millions per week. In this way, a reality TV show is much like a freeloading, mostly annoying sibling who eats better than you and gets to drive the car.

But if Youtube’s audience trends mean anything then perhaps one day we can be rid of the monopolistic use of the camera. If more people maintain the trend of entertaining themselves and their small networks of friends and family, hopefully Big Brother and (Home Depot’s) Mike Holmes on Homes days are numbered.

But I’m probably being overly optimistic. Too many people have already been duped into loving their private property to let go of Home and Garden Television anytime soon.

Home Depot's Mike Holmes

A Renovations book by Home Depot's Mike Holmes

Published in: on January 28, 2009 at 8:38 pm  Comments (1)  

How to kill your wife … according to Youtube. (2) (video 1)

As Strangelove and Michel Foucault argue, do we live in a confessional society?

The following is an excerpt from an anonymous post from grouphug.us:

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She told me her deepest and darkest secrets, and I did the same. She told me about getting raped, how it had happened to her multiple times. It made my stomach twist and it made me felt sick. I’d hold her when she’d cry. She’d talk about missing home, across on the other side of the planet … I made her feel better. But then I moved. I left her. Right now as I’m typing this I had to take a moment to pause and think over what I have done, it just hits me so hard. Those few months feel like they were the epitomy of my life now. I miss you…”

Since launching in 2003, the site has gained some fame and has received hundreds of thousands of confessions, and millions of hits. A book called “Stoned, Naked, and Looking in my Neighbour’s Window: The Best Confessions from Grouphug.us” contains some of the most hilarious, crude, disturbing, and explicit confessions one might ever read. Some of them are heartfelt and sad explanations of people’s lives. Others are silly and harmless.

stoned-naked1

I stumbled upon a Youtube video today titled “How to kill your wife.” The video by a semi-popular video blogger TheAmazingAtheist made light of some of the dumber plans people have used to rid themselves of their spouse and make some fast cash at the same time.

A marvelous thought struck me. What other videos could one find on the topic? Perhaps there might be a pattern. And indeed there was!

How to kill your wife by ignoring her:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-5_Kr6iMVg

How to “properly” beat one’s wife. Never do it front of the children! Avoid striking her face or sensitive areas. Oh, don’t break any bones or cause bleeding either. But otherwise, yeah, and Allah might not forgive you. But he might. You know, its really up to him:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN8veQoSxo0&feature=related

How to kill your wife by cooking ramen:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-5_Kr6iMVg

Top five ways to kill your wife according to children! (Actually, somewhat humourous, not in content but in execution):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJlidFuWxKU

Even McDonalds endorses killing your wife. Shocking!

It seems there is a great deal of male angst being directed against the wives of our world. We know killing is wrong but the fantasy to do away with those pesky wives is certainly there. This is an indirect mode of confession. But our most revealing confessions are often the ones we don’t intend to make, or aren’t even aware we’re making.

Its like nonverbal language. Those little twitches and hand-to-face gestures that give us away and let everyone who’s watching closely know that we’re lying. But men aren’t really kidding anyone.

Statistics Canada found that 653,000 women were abused physically or sexually by their spousal partner at least once in five years in 2004, down from 690,000 in 1999. This represents a 5 per cent decrease from the 1993 abuse rate. Its an encouraging trend. One that will hopefully continue.

The Statistics Canada report congratulates increased public awareness, support for abused women, treatment for violent men, training for police officers, and domestic violence legislation.

But if Canadian men are actually serious about putting an end to abusing their wives then we’ll have to put an end to the abuse fantasy that Youtube has shown exists as a humorous joke to many a man, child, and corporate burger maker. Not to mention the institutional acceptance of violence against women inherent within the value systems of some religions.

~

Sources:

Statistics Canada. Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006. Retrieved on Jan. 27 from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-570-x/85-570-x2006001-eng.pdf

Published in: on January 28, 2009 at 4:44 am  Comments (1)  

The Superbaby Syndrome (1)

Aldous Huxley has rolled over in his grave.

The Youtube user ‘sociallyskilled’ is in the process of posting videos of her children, including video of an unassisted birth, and her youngest child learning to use sign language and sing Abba songs.

Strangelove correlates this with an American desire to create the super baby. Indeed, there is a superbaby syndrome in the US and Canada, but it’s not the babies who have the disease. It’s the parents who are ill.

Before, reading to your child and playing classical music were the rumoured methods of giving your infant a headstart in the world. A little Sesame Street didn’t hurt either. Recently, new video games and electronic toys have begun to emerge, targeting infants as consumers and promising improvements in early childhood cognitive development.

The V Smile, from Vtech - www.vtechuk.com

The V Smile, from Vtech - http://www.vtechuk.com

But, as Strangelove reminds us, there is no evidence to show that these products have improved the cognitive development of children.

Indeed, I would suggest that they have much more to do with a parent’s needs, wants, and desires than improving a child’s life.

Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D, agrees. He suggests parents should beware of “overpriced and overrated “development aids” that appeal more to your emotions than to your child’s.”

Kutner makes light of the “ludicrous claims made by people who take parents’ money under the pretense of turning their babies into geniuses.”

Some ludicrous claims from Vtech's V Smile

But the subject is a serious one. Why do parents want to give their babies a headstart against others?

Strangelove argues that the competitive and ordered society we live in motivates these parents to one-up others so that their children can get the best jobs possible.

But I would add a few things to this line of reasoning.

Videogames, electronic toys, and TV shows for infants are the new babysitter. When parents don’t have enough time to pay attention to their children but don’t feel bad sitting them in front of a screen because some company says it will be good for them we are breaching dangerous ground.

These products make a parent’s job easier. When a parent uses these products, they are reinforcing the power of the screen over their child’s life rather than spending time with their children, showing them affection, and holding and caring for them.

Isn’t anyone concerned that the screen might have the opposite of the intended effect? The last time I checked the best way to ensure your child will be socially adept was to hold it, pay attention to it, and genuinely care for it.

Karen Schmidt and Jeffrey Cohn found that the more a mother and infant shared positive responses with one another, the better that child would be at social interaction later in life (p. 12). Ignoring one’s child or depriving them of human interaction has negative consequences for social development.

Instead of creating super babies, we are creating screen-hungry consumers and more time for parents to spend on their blackberries.

~

Sources:

Kutner, Lawrence. The Superbaby Syndrome. Retrieved Jan. 26 from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/beware-the-superbaby-syndrome/

Karen Schmidt and Jeffrey Cohn. (2001). Human Facial Expressions as Adaptations: Evolutionary Questions in Facial Expression Research. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology. Vol 44:3-24.

Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 4:01 pm  Comments (2)